Sweetly Standing in Careless Grace

Warner Home Video has just released that most serenely secular of holiday films, Vincente Minnelli’s 1944 “Meet Me in St. Louis,” in a Blu-ray edition that comes as close as contemporary technology will allow to majesty of Minnelli’s palette. But any excuse is a good one to return to this beautiful and profound film, poised between hope for the future and regret for the past, as moving an evocation of impermanence as anything the cinema has offered us. Here’s my review in the New York Times.

181 comments to Sweetly Standing in Careless Grace

  • Alex

    I’d pick “Meet Me in St. Louis,” and “Some Came Running” as Minnelli supreme mastepieces, though “The Band Wagon” and “The Clock” nip at their heels -and one could slightly lower th bar and have over a dozen masterpieces. (Is there a better ’50s film than “Some Came Running”?)

    Who was who said something along the lines that she’d gladly give away several dancingb in the rain sequences by Gene Kelly for Potempkin’s “The Rendez-Vous with a Squadron” — or Fred and Ginger’s “A Fine Romance”?

    But then again, “de Gustibus omnia est disputandum.”

  • Peter Henne

    Tony, I reacted to your 12-14, 7:39pm post with some of the same puzzlement that Gregg mentioned, but with additional questions as well. “Freudian psychoanalysis”? Goodness, which one? Taking into account the long history of Freud’s pre-eminence before his influence diminished (which Gregg correctly plotted), there are hundreds of strands. And “American culture”? I don’t know where to begin to sum up either of those words or the two put together. There must be thousands of credible notions of American culture. Like Freudian psychoanalysis, small wars have been waged to own the user rights of a two-word phrase. In the name of the fallen, it seems only fitting to spell out the specific schools of thought of Freudian psychoanalysis and American culture to which one is referring.

    What I love in that Halloween night scene from MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS is the tension between two points of view working at once, the sympathy for Tootie’s surprisingly growing fear and the gently wry, humorous regard on the scene of an adult, Minnelli, who has shed childish fancies of nighttime. Minnelli allows for the possibility of taking the “mature,” fondly indulgent outlook on Tootie’s panic which dispels it, but all the while leaves an open question if he and by extension the adult audience hasn’t after all forgotten something important and genuinely perceptive from childhood that Tootie re-enacts to help us remember. In other words, what I’m saying is, Let’s hear it for Tootie, she’s not to be dismissed as a child. I think Mark Gross’s 12-14, 1:26pm post very well articulates one half of the dynamic of the scene; but I don’t think it could be said that the scene or the film inhabits her point of view alone, because neither are limited to what a child would know and feel. We have a “knowing” feeling about Tootie in the Halloween night scene, but also we identify with her, not just for being quickly overcome with fear (which can happen to any adult) but her childhood talent for imagination and sensitivities we once had but no longer own up to. The film from the era that most seems to touch the same ambivalence is THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE.

  • Tony Williams

    Peter, Thanks for your message. By “Freudian psychoanalysis”, I mean the body of texts actually written by Freud, the classical version, not the later revisions and certainly not the American brand of ego-psychology that aimed to make the individual conform to the norms of American society (and in one notorious instance force a blacklist victim to “name names” to cure the subject of neurosis according to the notorious case cited in Victor Navasky, NAMING NAMES).

    “Culture” refers to the classical American literature tradition, the type of work examined by D.H. Lawrence in STUDIES IN AMERICAN CLASSICAL LITERATURE where he defined “the hero” as an isolate and a killer. I think the most rewarding study of this particular culture is the work of Richard Slotkin whose monumental trilogy REGENERATION THROUGH VIOLENCE, THE FATAL ENVIRONMENT: THE MYTH OF THE FRONTIER IN THE AGE OF INDUSTRIALIZATION, and GUNFIGHTER NATION (which I find the most unsatisfactory since Slotkin is a better literary than film critic) sums up a particular cultural tradition. His second volume traces how the originally minor story of Little Big Horn became elaborated into the Custer Myth with the savage Indians compared to unions, foreign workers, feminists, and African-Americans. In terms of contemporary ideological attempts to turn the clock back to the robber-baron era with the Newt wanting to abolish child labor laws and the assault on New Deal era “entitlements”, Slotkin’s work is still relevant today.

    These are the two “specific schools of thought” I was referring to.

  • mark gross

    “What I love in that Halloween night scene from MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS is the tension between two points of view working at once, the sympathy for Tootie’s surprisingly growing fear and the gently wry, humorous regard on the scene of an adult, Minnelli, who has shed childish fancies of nighttime.”

    Thanks, Peter! That’s exactly what I was trying to describe in my own inarticulate way when I wrote about Minnelli’s framing of Tootie in the Halloween sequence against various compositional elements (especially the use of color and camera movement) bringing out a feeling of auto-biography on Minnelli’s part, in additional to the emotional thrust of the basic narrative, so that one is simultaneously inside and outside of the scene.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Barry and Tony, thanks for the good comments. I didn’t necessarily agree with Andrew Britton’s comments on James, but they were a clear, lucid part of his argument.

    Peter, I think your comments on Tootie are very good, particularly in terms of how Minnelli cues our feelings toward/about her. CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE is an excellent film to bring up (and like I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, it’s a Lewton horror film!).

    James was also interested in the subjective experience of childhood (“What Maisie Knew” most obviously, but also the overt ghost story “The Turn of the Screw”).

  • Peter Henne

    Tony, Thanks for your reply. Haven’t all of the Freud interpreters who can be taken seriously claimed to have gone straight to the source like you have, Freud’s works themselves? I’m not saying that I know everything about this-far from it. In fact, only a psychoanalyst could be in anything close to an authoritative position on the mountains of literature. There are so many divergent people of weight connected to the name of Freud–to cite just three, Carl Jung, Alfred Adler and Ludwig Binswanger–before we even get to the UK and American traditions which also go directly to the work, like Bion and Winnicott, just as you did. I’m deeply impressed with Harold Searles’ galvanizingly soul-searching papers on schizophrenia; great thinking for anyone to see, and actually, great literature. My point is that someone saying they sourced Freud directly does not pick out the interpretations they made. Thank you for adding some clarification to what you meant by American culture (I’ve come across the Slotkin book but haven’t read it, and will take a close look when it comes my way again).

  • mark gross

    Gregg & Peter: Since Henry James is being evoked in terms of subject matter (that of early childhood experience), one could also mention James’ late style of very long sentences with continual rhythmic pauses (which he actually composed dictating to a typist) as creating a dual sense of both omniscient and subjective narration, possessing that same quality which Peter has pointed out as an important element of Minnelli’s style, especially in the Halloween sequence.

  • Tony Williams

    Yes Peter, Freudian literature is immense but the corpus I was referring to was the initial body of work written by Freud himself not the later re-interpretations by Adler, Jung, Binswanger, Melanie Klein etc who took up some Freud ideas and then departed forcefully into their own directions. For example in 1915, when Jack London first discovered Jung, the literature was very indebted to Freud and had nothing of the collective unconscious we now associate with later Jung. Problems do exist with Freud, of course, in terms of his social and historical context. The Oedipus Complex is not as universal as he believed and there is the monumental issue as to what Freud repressed himself as Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson pointed out in terms of Freud not recognizing that actual cases of child abuse did occur. To sum up this whole issue, classic Freud means going as near to the classical tradition as possible, modifying it when necessary,and not departing from it in a disruptive direction unless there is evidence for doing so. Freud did admit that not everything derives from sexual repression and that a “cigar is sometime a cigar.” D. W. Winnicott is also a very important link to the Freudian tradition that like any concept needs constant interrogation. I will not deal with the literary aspects of Freud himself since that is another subject but agree with you that one always needs to be specific in every case whenever possible.

  • Blake Lucas

    Dave’s piece here was the first one that actively made me want Blu-Ray and make me regret I don’t have it. The reason for this: my early viewings of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, for perhaps seven or eight years, were of a Technicolor nitrate that would float around and play in revival theatres, often around Christmas–it had some splices but was gorgeous. So I know how beautiful the film looked in three-strip Technicolor and despite best efforts it hasn’t looked like that in the years since (have seen it many times) and this does sound so much closer and I yearn to see it. At the same time, I have the earlier DVD and Dave’s piece made me pine to watch the film this year-jbryant’s first comment that the HD TCM is showing now looks wonderful made that sound like a better option, so I’m thinking I’ll DVR that (it’s on again Christmas Eve day) and watch that instead. But, Dave, you’ve convinced me at last that there has to be Blu-Ray somewhere in my future.

    I guess it’s because this is MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS and I had thought recently about what are the great three-strip Technicolor films for me. Of the greatest Hollywood made ones in the 40s, I actually do consider this the first of half a dozen chronologically. I know Alex briefly touched on this subject earlier and though I’ll agree the color may be admirable in the two he mentioned (though my memory of FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS as a film is not very fond and I’m only moderate on BLOOD AND SAND), the six that stand out for me do so because not only is the Technicolor great but is so beautifully integrated with other great elements on every level of these films so they are total masterpieces, for color but in every other way too. Chronologically:

    MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS
    LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN
    CANYON PASSAGE
    MARGIE
    THE PIRATE
    SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON

    Ok, Minnelli has two–no surprise, he’s a great colorist and that shows even in what are to me not top tier Minnelli–YOLANDA AND THE THIEF and ZIEGFELD FOLLIES, which both have mesmerizing sequences for color (and in other ways too).

    Still, of directors, even he is beaten outside of Hollywood by Michael Powell in LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP, BLACK NARCISSUS and THE RED SHOES so I guess Powell & Pressburger get the prize here if there is one.

    Some interesting things about Natalie Kalmus, and I believe it applies to any of the American films I named above (can’t remember now if she was involved with the British ones too). Technicolor was better when directors and cinematographers broke her rules than when they kept to them. A lot has been written about this and it’s all true. The one film on my list fewest people here will have seen is MARGIE, directed by Henry King and photographed by Charles Clarke. You’ll have the chance Christmas Eve on TCM and I encourage anyone who hasn’t to see it. If you want to see subtle gradations within Technicolor and many blacks, it will amaze you–the scenes in Margie’s room, especially the silhouette of her in what is perhaps the film’s most dramatic moment, visually and otherwise, are not to be believed.

    Now also want to say that I found Dave’s sensitive color analysis for MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS very impressive–it’s that kind of attentiveness to the loving visual detail Minnelli and collaborators gave the film that is deserving of more attention; I’m betting Mike Grost, who is hopefully with us this week, enjoyed this too. He himself has written a great deal about Minnelli’s use of color.

    I was especially taken with the white/red dominance Dave noted in the Winter sequence because it made me think of the first serious critical piece I ever wrote about a film–this was on Minnelli’s SOME CAME RUNNING, and there too there was a white/red relationship, key in the climax, that I hit very hard in my discussion of that film.

    Minnelli is always attentive to and creative with color in all his color films, but I wouldn’t say that he consistently uses any one color in the same way in each film. It may have a different meaning in one film than in another, or sometimes may have a correspondence with the way it is used in another of his films. I don’t think Dave was saying otherwise, as I read it (and just reread it) and I do think his observations about the way the colors were used in this particular film were apt and insightful.

    This was my favorite of Dave’s many fine pieces here all year (and last year it was MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW–is there something about deeply felt, profoundly observed emotion and characters drawn with both artistry and mature affection that brings out some of Dave’s best writing?–if so, it’s a quality I for one appreciate).

    MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS is a special movie to me, released the year I was born, have seen it many times and it’s a work for which I have a lot of personal feeling. Tootie especially is a character for whom I have an affinity but it is also this world and the whole family, and the vibrancy that attaches to the portrait of it within the film. And I would like to say that if someone really believes it’s about the Return of the Repressed or the Repression of Female Sexuality, I certainly don’t question their sincere belief but I don’t experience it that way at all.

    Dave’s observations about impermanence seem much nearer the mark–and there is an interesting resonance between the realization of the film’s end and the reality of the Benson family’s actual move to New York. There has been enough talk about Tootie already, and I too thought Mark Gross’ contributions here were particularly good–and absolutely agree that it is Minnelli we see in her, certainly on a soul level. Remember that she is not all darkness either–in the first moments she is introduced, sitting on the back of the ice wagon, she is singing “Brighten the corner where you are…”

    Isn’t that exactly what Minnelli did his whole career?

    As for female sexuality, it’s hard for me to imagine how female sexuality in a 1944 film made by MGM and set in 1903 could be LESS repressed. The two teenage girls are attuned and comfortable with their sexuality–and Esther even does more to take the lead initially with John; when he emerges as her boyfriend, he seems masculine but in a non-macho way, the kind of man Minnelli appreciates, much like Robert Walker’s character in THE CLOCK, where the couple matches this one in male/female balance in each of the two partners. And the two younger girls also, obviously, are following the same path of being unrepressed, Tootie the least repressed of all. And Mrs. Smith seems their model and a very self-composed and self-knowing woman. One thing one observes very pleasantly about this family is that although Mr. Smith seems to take the traditional patriarchal role and makes all the final decisions, he wears the patriarchal role lightly, appealingly, generously. It’s the women who truly set the tone for the family’s life and he seems to know this as much as they do. No need to go to the climax of the film to make the point–consider the early dinner table scene (“From now on I’ll handle the phone in my own way. (phone rings). Rose, you may answer that.”).

    I shared something with Gregg Rickman in an email and he said it was moving to him, so will share here too. Around 1975, a local revival theatre, the Vagabond, was run by a guy named Tom Cooper very good at getting guests associated with the movies. One night he ran MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS to a full house and had not only Minnelli in the audience, but sitting with their director, Margaret O’Brien, Lucille Bremer, Tom Drake and Leon Ames, four actors who all had great roles and a career high here. The audience response was exceptionally warm. In the lobby afterward, I saw Minnelli–there were tears in his eyes; he was openly crying. There could be and I’m sure were a whole complex of reasons for this. 1) That he had created such a beautiful work of art that remained as pleasurable and moving to people as ever, 2) memories of a woman now gone who had been so important in his life and at this key point of his career and so luminous in the movie, 3) memories of his own Midwest childhood and the personal resonances for him of the movie he had made, and 4) just possibly–the vision of life in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS remained one that, at least idealistically, a sophisticated adult with a complex view of the world, and one capable of critique of aspects of that world, could still believe in and see as deeply positive.

  • Barry Putterman

    I’d like to take a moment to second Blake’s recommendation of MARGIE. I don’t know what kind of print they will be showing or why it is on Turner rather than Fox Channel (hey, it’s the holiday season, so I’ll give Fox a pass today) but when I saw it many years ago in the Henry King sereis at the Museam of Modern Art, it was a standout for me and others of my aquaintance on almost every conceivable level.

    And yes, if the print is good, the color will be very impressive. But in keeping with the topic of this week’s thread, I think it quite likely that you will find it emotioanlly very closely connected to MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, if not necessarily NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Then again, since the American incursion into Nicaragua during the 1920s enters into the story, you might be able to relate the film to last week’s discussion of violence and American foreign policy.

    I would imagine that most people will be otherwise engaged on Christmas Eve, but I believe that if you record and later view MARGIE it will be time well spent.

  • Vivian

    Blake, thanks for sharing that memory about the screening of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS and Minnelli’s response. It is a moving story.

    I agree with all the points you make (especially about the integration of color with “other great elements” in the masterpieces you cite, and certainly about the women and girls in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS being spectacularly unrepressed).

  • Alex

    Blake,

    Hard to quibble wiuth your color favorite, for the color for the four of them I’ve seen is so great. (Never seen MARGIE, but Barry’s TCM heads up should remedy that.)

    Hard not to stand up and cheer for your choice of LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, Shampoy’s 2-strip color for which is right up there with Cardiff’s great ’46-48 run for Powell and Pressburger.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    I can’t think of too many activities more satisfying, even on Chrismas Eve, than watching MARGIE, a wonderful movie even in the far from first-class color quality of my old tape. I’ll certainly watch it on Turner.

    To Blake’s list of great Technicolor films I would add Ford’s THREE GODFATHERS. I remember seeing a pristine print at MOMA a long time ago and it was visually stunning.

  • Peter Henne

    I haven’t seen MARGIE and look forward to the Dec. 24 opportunity. All of Blake’s other five top American spots for color are terrific. Would like to add in Borzage’s SMILIN’ THROUGH with its so-called “candy-box colors,” a description stopping at a surface comparable to the so-called greeting-card colors of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS.

    Dave’s piece on Minnelli’s film in this week’s column is splendid.

  • To Tony, I will certainly read Andrew Britton’s piece, especially after Gregg’s lucid summary–thank you for that Grehgg.

    Blake, I’ll add another memory of Minnelli and “Meet Me in St.Louis.” In 1984 a frail Minnelli was in New York City at a screening of “An American in Paris” and answered a few questions after. Someone asked him about “Meet Me in St.Louis” and a very tender expression crossed his face when he answered. It seemed to me that he was very fond of the movie, perhaps recalling its production at the moment.

  • Barry Putterman

    Oh, and as long as we’re on the subject, Turner will also be showing the equally hard to find and worth seeing GOOD SAM next Tuesday night (the 20th). And if MARGIE can be said to relate to MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, so could GOOD SAM be said to relate to IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.

  • jbryant

    Holy mackerel, great news about MARGIE and GOOD SAM turning up on TCM. I’ve only got VHS copies, and I don’t even keep the recorder hooked up any more.

    Blake, I’m sure someone more technically oriented than me will pop up to say that TCM’s HD signal is less optimal than a Blu-Ray, but all I know is that the blacks were deep and dark and the colors were gorgeous. So happy viewing!

  • Steve Elworth

    Barry is absolutely correct about GOOD SAM and MARGIE being must views for ones who have not seen them and reviews for us lucky enough to have seen them. MARGIE is one of the great unknown films and though it takes place in the 20s in the same ballpark with MEET ME IN SAINT LOUIS. That screening of a great print at MOMA back in the 20th century was jaw dropping.

  • skelly

    I’m quite excited about MARGIE – never seen it. Speaking of Jeanne Crain, Fox, Technicolor and girls named Margie (or rather “Margy”) – STATE FAIR’s a good looking effort. Not as strong as some of the greats mentioned; but worth a reference.

    Peter – sadly the last time TCM showed Borzage’s SMILIN’ THROUGH the colors looked less than “candy boxed”.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Thanks, X (and Blake). I do indeed highly recommend GOOD SAM, a vastly underrated film. There was a lively discussion of the film right here in this very spot two years ago, in the Dec. 20 and Dec. 27 2009 threads of this blog. You could look ‘em up! (Skelly inquired at the time about the whereabouts of a 128 minute version of the film; only a 114, or 116 minute version was then available on VHS. Turner’s broadcast is announced as 115 minutes, so it’ll be the same print… give or take a minute!)

    WAS there a longer version? The ever reliable imdb lists it as 114 minutes. I understand the film wasnt successful on its release, so perhaps it was cut for its second runs. I recall seeing it on tv in the 1970s/80s and thinking it was being allowed to run quite long, not that I minded.

    I’m as happy as Alex, Peter and Skelly about the prospect of seeing MARGIE.

  • nicolas saada

    Hi everyone. Bear in mind that (at least in europe) films are shown on tv at 25 frames a second instead of 24. As a result they often are a minute or more shorter than their original official version.
    TECHNICOLOR… A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH is another entry.I have also vivid memories of the color in Henry King’s THE BLACK SWAN and Borzage’s THE SPANISH MAIN.
    I had a friend back in the eighties, a real eccentric who was bove all a friend of my parents. He was a connoisseur of technicolor. I was fifteen and sixteen: he often told me about Kalmus but also of Richard Mueller. In his interesting book “film of the forties”, Joel Siegel mentions the shot of the arriving train at night in RETURN OF FRANK JAMES: Kalmus was the technicolor consultant on that film, and the color scheme is amazing.

  • Patrick

    Another somewhat obscure must-see coming up on TCM in the next week is Jacques Tourneur’s great, neurotic Civil War Western, GREAT DAY IN THE MORNING. 12/22, 6:15 a.m.

  • Patrick, great news about GREAT DAY IN THE MORNING! It seems to be one of the last well or better known Tourneur films that is not yet available on DVD. I don’t remember seeing it, so I’m hoping this TCM showing bodes well for future DVD release, although I’d gladly see some Tourneurs even on Blu-ray.

    About Minnelli: Anyone for ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER? I bought it yesterday second hand from a video rental place for 1.99 euro. Haven’t watched it yet, but it’s a Minnelli! Or is it?

  • Jim Gerow

    And yet another rarity of auteurist interest next week on TCM, Cukor’s THE CHAPMAN REPORT on Wednesday 12/21 at 7:15 am.

  • mark gross

    Dear Hannu:

    ON A CLEAR DAY is problematic but certainly worth seeing if one loves Minnelli. First, there were major pre-release cuts by Paramount which rendered the story unintelligible. For instance, Jack Nicholson, who plays Streisand’s brother and is quite good, is only in the film for a few moments. Also, Streisand & Minnelli don’t appear to be exactly simpatico, although the theme, that of a dreamer, is very close to Minnelli’s heart, and the flashback scenes are done with his usual breathtaking use of color and camera movement that transcends story or even the performers and seems almost a poetic documentary shot from inside the soul. Yves Montand also has his usual problems with the English language and there is absolutely no chemistry between him and Streisand. Nonetheless, it was my favorite film of 1970, the year it was released. It was also Minnelli’s last big budget Hollywood musical, and as such, should be cherished.

  • Alex

    mark gross,

    Thanks for helping make sense of what was, for me, the unwatchableness of ON A CLEAR DAY.

  • Barry Putterman

    Not to mention ON A CLEAR DAY’s marvelous title song, which could conceivably be played on a continuous loop over Minnelli’s entire career.

  • mark gross

    Alex, I found ON A CLEAR DAY eminently watchable, but then I saw it at Loew’s State (or at least, that’s the theatre I remember seeing it in), on a huge curved screen with stereophonic sound. Also, I think you have to look at studio ravaged films such as ON A CLEAR DAY the way Godard wrote about Nicholas Ray’s THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES. I think he referred to Ray’s original intentions which were encased in the false trappings and dreadful reshot scenes of the film as “brushstrokes” which, in the careful viewer, came through and created in one’s mind an alternative film. ON A CLEAR DAY is much less problematic than THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES, but I still think one has to look carefully for Minnelli’s visual and thematic thumbprints (which are all over the film, though not as consistently as one would like them to be) and reconstruct the ideal Minnelli film from these elements in one’s mind based on the evidence that is already there on the screen.

  • The current Broadway revival of ON A CLEAR DAY (its first) doiesn’t quite work, but splitting the character of Daisy into David, a gay man in the 70s, and Melinda, a Big Band singer in the 40s whom the doctor is attracted to (by way of David) is intriguing, to say the least. What would Minnelli have made of that?

  • Thanks for the mention of 3 Godfathers as a great Technicolor film.

    Interesting the bringing in of Melville’s Pierre upthread. The tone of Tootie’s talk isn’t very far from that of Pierre and his mother, a blend of playfulness and something darker haunting the shadowy corners.

  • Junko Yasutani

    About Americana movie, I am not sure of definition. Looking to me like Americana movie is about late 19th century early 20th century before WWI similar to Meijimono Japanese genre of Meiji era (1868-1912), movie like STEAMBOAT ROUND THE BEND, CENTENNIAL SUMMER, MEET ME IN ST.LOUIS, THE STARS IN MY CROWN, GENTLEMAN JIM. But many movie described here as Americana not fitting this period. What is main characteristic of Americana movie? I appreciate if someone can tell me.

  • I always loved ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER. It has some marvelous musical numbers, endearing characters, and is rich in visual style. It would be definitely better if the cut sections could be found and restored – have no idea if they survive.

    On the less prestigious side of Minnelli’s career: I DOOD IT and KISMET have only intermittent interest, although each has some outstanding music scenes. MADAME BOVARY and FATHER OF THE BRIDE are Minnelli’s most overrated films, YOLANDA AND THE THIEF, UNDERCURRENT, THE SANDPIPER and ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER his most underrated films. These last four are rich in Minnelli subjects, images and visual style. I try to establish this in my Minnelli web-book.

    IMHO Minnelli films tend to be much much better than their reputation often indicates. The visual style Minnelli lavished on everything is remarkable.

  • Junko,
    I THINK that “Americana” can be defined as “positive aspects of traditional, typical American culture”.
    It is NOT connected to any period. Americana might include a spinning wheel from 1700 New England, or an Andrew Sisters record from 1944. Both are part of the “traditional American way of life”.

    MEET ME IN ST.LOUIS as a whole shows a “typical American family leading a traditional American life”, and so is Americana.
    Festivals like Halloween and Christmas have deep roots in the “American way of life”.
    So do some specific things you see in the movie, like the fez grandpa wears, the breadbox where Esther hides John’s hat, the piano Rose plays,the trolley. (My grandmother had a breadbox.) Even a famous old song like “Meet Me in St. Louis”, a song I was taught as a kid many years before I learned there was a movie named after it.

    Americana is not restricted to movies. It is perhaps not a movie genre. Books, objects you see in museums, are also Americana.

  • nicolas saada

    Natalie Kalmus was championed in Joel Siegel’s short piece on THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES in his book “films of the forties”. The scene he refers to is the arrival of the train at night. Quite something.
    Other major Technicolor memories: a friend of my father introduced me to the names of Natalie Kalmus and Richard Mueller when I was still a teenage cinephile. I’ve always kept an eye on that “technicolor consultant” card ever since.
    Other major Technicolor films are Borzage’s SPANISH MAIN and King’s fabulous BLACK SWAN (yes there was one before that other one). Technicolor is so unnatural, eerie, almost dreamlike, that it serves the films we mention, especially during the night scenes.
    Regarding length and version, I know that in France films are shown on tv at 25 frames per second and as a result, runningtimes differ from what they are “officially”.

  • ON A CLEAR DAY I have only seen on the Paramount dvd released in Finland five years ago. I agree with Mark Gross (December 17, 2011 at 12:16 pm) about it. I liked the parody of psychotherapy in curing Yves Montand of his nicotine addiction and the multiple personalities of Barbra Streisand which Yves meets in hypnosis. I liked the Minnelli meets psychedelia aspect and the counter-cultural edge with Jack Nicholson. The theme of love through transformation brings to mind Brigadoon, also written by Alan Jay Lerner. On the dvd the definition of colour was gorgeous, worthy of the master of colour Vincente Minnelli.

    Movie Americana for a guy from Finland, a country with a deep fascination for things U.S. (and I am not an exception in having relatives there), first of all brings to mind the Fox – Twentieth Century Fox tradition. An exemplary film might be STATE FAIR (1933), the most representive director might be Henry King, and Will Rogers might be an actor who personified the trend especially memorably? The trend started much earlier (TOL’ABLE DAVID, LAZYBONES, HONEST HUTCH, CAMEO KIRBY), but perhaps during the Great Depression there was a special need for an affirmation of the best traditional American values (not necessarily reactionary or nostalgic). This may have been the background also for the success of Shirley Temple.

  • “I THINK that ‘Americana’ can be defined as ‘positive aspects of traditional, typical American culture’.”

    I’d say that’s a fair definition Mike. There’s also a counter-cultural Americana of marginalized groups, particularly African-American and working class folklore. Archie Green (who died this year at age 91) coined the term laborlore and collected songs, cartoons, stories and slang from the labor movement here in the US with emphasis on the immigrant contribution to Americana from people like Joe Hill (real name Joel Hagglund) who gave us that quintessential American expression “pie in the sky.”

  • Barry Putterman

    A side note to Jonathan Rosenbaum. For work related reasons too depressing to detail, I am currently going to see the Academy Award contending films in the theaters. Yesterday, before THE DESCENDANTS, I saw the trailer for THE ARTIST. It opens by identifying the time as 1927, and the music swelling up on the soundtrack is….Benny Goodman’s version of “Sing Sing Sing.” Presumably, the trailer for the sequel set in the Swing Era will include a clip of Al Jolson in THE JAZZ SINGER. Pass the hemlock, Solmes.

  • Alex

    For me, the greatest accomplishments of 3-strip Technicolor come in two modes. One stresses the stylized richness of 3-strip Technicolor as exemplified by the –yes, somewhat fantastical– color of “Red Shoes,” “Thief of Baghdad” and “The Pirate.” The other lies in the evocation of light in a delicate, transcendental, mystical aspect as in “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Black Narcissus.” It’s is an effect many strive after in word (e.g., Joyce writing st the end of one of the early Daedalus sections of “Ullyses” that “through the checkerwork of leaves the sun flung spangles, dancing coins”).

  • Brian Dauth

    Barry: THE ARTIST is the kind of bad postmodernist movie that even a dedicated postmodernist like myself does not like. Stick to HUGO — after the movie was over, my husband turned to me and said: “That was a Paramoount movie wasn’t it.” I had no idea, but lo and behold it was. He said he could tell since the Paris of the movie was like the Paris in all those old b&w Paramount movies I made him watch.

    Also, our Christmas movie is THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER.

    As for Technicolor: Jack Cardiff’s work on THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA is impressive.

  • Barry Putterman

    Brian, THE ARTIST itself isn’t on tap for me until next week. But no matter how it turns out, it couldn’t possibly be as bad as the film I saw today; THE HELP.

    Incidentally, there is a Jack Cardiff series scheduled to run on Turner in January, including a showing of the recent documentary about him.

  • mike schlesinger

    Mike G: While I was at Paramount in the early 90s, I really wanted to try and put both CLEAR DAY and Elaine May’s A NEW LEAF back together. But a thorough scouring of the vaults came up blank on both titles. Unless there’s a work print hidden in a secret panel somewhere in one of Minnelli’s old houses, I’m afraid the cut footage is gone forever.

  • Mike S.
    You certainly deserve a round of applause for trying.
    Thank you!

  • Robert Garrick

    I just read Blake’s post from December 16. Blake, you mention that this was your favorite essay from Dave Kehr this year. Well, yours is my favorite comment from this year.

    You are so right about Natalie Kalmus–the key was to ignore her! Her role vanished in the late ’40s (courtesy of an ugly alimony lawsuit) but unfortunately three-strip Technicolor also vanished a few years later (with 1954′s “Foxfire”), replaced by a flood of cheap chemical color processes.

    Your list of color films is good, but I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned “Duel in the Sun.” The film is a mess, but its color photography (by Lee Garmes, Hal Rosson, and Ray Rennahan) is often spectacular. This was the start of King Vidor’s “delirious period”–to me, his most interesting period–and his films were among the most visually stylish of the late ’40s and early ’50s.

    Another film conspicuously absent from the past week’s discussion is Rouben Mamoulian’s “Summer Holiday” (1948). It has fans (William K. Everson thought it might have been the best Hollywood musical of all) and it has detractors (Andrew Sarris and the other auteur critics are mostly lukewarm at best on Mamoulian). But it’s relevant here because it’s such an obvious rip-off of “Meet Me in St. Louis.” It’s a much different, much colder film, but it is hardly without interest or charm. Its color has also been praised in some quarters.

    Speaking of William K. Everson (as Barry and I often do), he once singled out “Black Narcissus” as the greatest achievement in color cinematography.

    And finally, you mention Los Angeles’s late lamented Vagabond Theatre. I could join Minnelli in tears, thinking of the great things I saw there, all in stunning 35mm prints. No doubt you were in the crowd on many of those occasions.

  • Alex

    THE ARTIST might be regarded as a “kind of bad postmodernist movie,” or it might simple be regarded as poor schtick.

    What first jumps out for a viewer of its preview is not that it employs a silent acting style but that it attempts to do so while actually seeking to recreate the popular misconsception of silent acting as broad mugging.

  • Duncan Cameron

    One of my favorite Technicolor films is Mitchell Leisen’s silly but gorgeous FRENCHMAN’S CREEK. I’ve never seen his LADY IN THE DARK from the same period, but I can imagine its color is pretty spectacular also.

  • mark gross

    In reference to Nicholas Saada’s post at 9;24 AM, I saw an amazing Technicolor nitrate print of THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES at a sidebar series which was part of the New York Film Festival in 70′ or 71 curated by Henri Langlois & it was everything Nicholas describes and more. What I ,as a young burgeoning film enthusiast, found particularly arresting was the subtle array in colors, especially a whole spectrum of reds, simultaneously naturalistic and yet also expressionistic, that seemed to express the themes of the film, and one that was particularly dear to Fritz Lang, that of revenge, a revenge that visually upsets the natural order of things. For example, Henry Fonda in the beginning is seen as part of nature, both in terms of the composition as well as the color of dark greens and browns, and then as the revenge plot intensifies. the whole film becomes bathed in red and in a kind of theatrical framing, placing Fonda inside windows and various frames within frames that resemble the overhead arch of a theatre.

    Unfortunately, that Technicolor brilliance is nowhere to be found on the DVD of THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES, as this was one of many titles (also THE GANG’S ALL HERE & THE BLACK SWAN) that was transferred to Eastmancolor in the early 80′s by Fox, (I’m also under the impression that the original Technicolor negative was destroyed, although I hope I’m wrong,)and what was once all subtle and glorious in terms of the color, is now harsh and garish.

  • Thank you Mark, Robert, Mike and Antti for your remarks in support of ON A CLEAR DAY. Nice to know, Antti, that my “print” is that good one you liked so much.

    Brian: your Christmas sounds fine to me!

    I once saw THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER at our ciné club Kokkolan Elokuvakerho Outolempi (The Strangelove Ciné Club of Kokkola) and fell in love with it. Such a sweet film! But I haven’t been able to see it since. I didn’t even remember it was a Christmas story. I was asked to write an article on Christmas films for my newspaper, but then I noticed I hadn’t seen them that much lately… Though, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is always a favorite.

  • Robert Garrick

    Several people (including me) have mentioned “Black Narcissus” as one of the best-looking color films, and at least one person has mentioned “The Red Shoes.” There’s a lesser-known Michael Powell film that is also beautifully photographed in color, and that is “Gone to Earth” (1950). I was able to see a gorgeous print of it at the old AFI Theatre (in the Kennedy Center) about fifteen years ago.

    “Peeping Tom” (1960) is also a major achievement in color photography, though we’re now past the three-strip Technicolor era.

    I’ve long considered Powell the greatest of the British directors, not just for his color films. But they are certainly extraordinary and I don’t think anyone has consistently used color more beautifully and expressively.

  • COBRA WOMAN (Robert Siodmak) has delirious color.
    *
    The 2011 film “Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect and the Painter” will be shown tonight 10 PM EST on PBS (Public Television in the USA). Haven’t seen it. It’s a documentary about the famous designers/filmmakers.
    But have seen many films by the Eames. They are really interesting. They mainly fall in the category of “science documentaries”, made with creative techniques. The Eames are clearly important filmmakers.
    *
    Countless Christmas films are still being made, especially for cable television in the United States. Just saw “The Santa Suit” (Robert Vaughn, 2010). It is full of liberal social commentary in the CHRISTMAS CAROL tradition. So are quite a few modern Christmas films.

    It would be interesting to get some comment on these from the cinephile community.
    Fantasy films in general seem undervalued.

  • David Cohen

    Barry, glad someone else found The Help as unpalatable as I did. Made me want to hit myself in the head with a mallet … And the comments I’ve seen (someone contradict me if this not a correct assumption) suggest that The Artist might be best enjoyed by those who don’t actually like silent films. That would be terribly disappointing.